Johnston Press' group publishing director: social media is my secret work weapon

Richard Thomson: the group publishing director at Johnston Press
Richard Thomson: the group publishing director at Johnston Press

Richard Thomson explains how readers' reactions on social media impact i's front page.

My colleagues used to say to me, if they cut me open, I’d have newspaper ink running through my veins – a newspaper man through and through, just like my father.

Dad, who owned two newsagents, had worked at The Sun and News of the World, retiring in 2007. It’s no big surprise, therefore, that my personal "transition" to digital was at a slightly more glacial pace than some. But, boy, am I making up for lost time.

I’ve become something of a social media fiend of late: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit – I just can’t get enough. Why social media? And why now, when the fake news war rages on and we, as an industry, are facing increasing commercial challenges from the likes of Facebook and Google? Relationships. That’s why.

Our relationship with readers has never been closer. We know more about our audience than ever, which means we can engage with them like never before. This potential can shape our thinking or even change our direction of travel.

That was never more evident than on the day of the horrific terror attack in Westminster. That evening, the editorial team at i, which Johnston Press bought just over a year ago, teased the following day’s front page on Twitter. The image ran in a number of papers but we’d cropped it, resulting in a powerful and stark image.

Our readers had strongly opposing views and took to social media in their droves to voice them. When it became clear that the front page was fast becoming the story, editor Oly Duff took the decision to change the page for the print edition.

Print sales the next day were up 5% and the extremely loyal i audience voiced their respect at the sensitive way with which it was dealt.

Social media will never replace journalistic integrity, thank God, but it has allowed for incredible interaction with audiences – helping not only our online coverage but our print titles too. 

Richard Thomson is the group publishing director at Johnston Press.

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